In truth, for me, Fuller-as-showrunner-auteur is something I kind of struggle with (in an early draft of this, I think I went so far to say that he defied typical auteurist understandings). On the one hand, these themes that recur throughout the works of his that I’ve seen do play into a clear sense of that underlying preoccupation so critical to auteurism. But at the same time, paratextual discussions of what the actors themselves bring to their roles (nowhere more important? or maybe just poignant than in the end, where the decision to embrace and fall seems to have been arrived at wholly independently of what’s scripted - and all the talk of the other way that scene was imagined by Mikkelsen and Dancy), as well as Fuller’s own penchant for surrounding himself with familiar faces (Caroline Dhavernas, Lee Pace, Ellen Muth, Ellen Greene, Raul Esparza, Eddie Izzard, etc., among the actors, and Guillermo Navarro, as well) and his participation in collaborative script writing suggests something more than just the brainchild of one man. And when considered against the backdrop of just how much Hannibal - of all his shows - seems to openly reject the high/low distinctions that tend to characterize contemporary stabs at auteurism, it doesn’t quite seem to fit…
Perhaps, if he’s inverting Quality TV with Hannibal, so too might he be considered to be inverting auteurism - embodying certain of the characteristics of an auteur, but within a firmly collaborative context?
IS AMAZING. This is tangential to the discussion, but I’m amazed by how he fully becomes a character in his own right, and by the end a terrifying force to be reckoned with - it’s saying something when, in the end, it’s Chilton’s threat of wearing Hannibal’s skin that seems the most frighteningly plausible. Where Mason Verger never really escapes caricature, Chilton’s many lives seem to bring him back a bit different every time, as if he’s the lens through which we see how a man is made a monster…?
This is the term that always comes to mind for me as well, particularly from S2 onwards; I wonder how we might play this out from just the visuals? I’m thinking of, for example, the show’s uses of music (classical pieces that each seem to reference something a bit different - The Goldberg Variations always seeming to cite the moment in The Silence of the Lambs when Lecter kills the officer against that musical backdrop, but also the Peer Gynt suite when Will is imagining what might have been, among so many others - artworks, and literary/biblical citations (I absolutely do not swoon when Hannibal is quoting Revelations while talking to Jack about Will)). The whole thing seems like a kind of sensual AND intellectual smorgasbord… and maybe even something of a departure from what we see in Season 1, with its more (intellectualized/studied) Kubrickian coldness…?
“the designation of the text as having a female audience has resulted in putting off some male students.” Absolutely agreed, and I think it extends to the critical establishment, so that when Fuller doesn’t just tolerate or even accept, but embraces the (gendered) online fandom through flower crowns, “murder husbands,” and an official tumblr account par excellence, he’s doing something every bit as transgressive and refreshing as what the show itself does.
Thanks Brian. I absolutely recognise the cinematic influences you mention in the show, and certainly I noticed the increased frequency of time given over each episode for the overtly stylistic moments in season three in comparison to the previous seasons. And, even though I can think of several examples which are exceptions to this, Hannibal seems to favour presenting the effects of violence with aesthetic pleasure rather than the violence itself; I wonder the how that plays into the perceived conventional desires of audiences for both horror and crime genre texts.
It’s interesting the point you raise about the gendered audience. The obvious participation in the fandom in online spaces appears, at least on its surface, to be more feminine, with online gender identities not always being stated or easily recognised. In these spheres the behaviour may be attributed to females more readily than males because of hegemonic ideas of gendered attitudes and behaviours. Is the perception of the audience skewed by the ways that male and female viewers demonstrate their passion for a text in different ways and sometimes in different spaces?
What’s curious for me, though is that in my two years of using Hannibal as a case study text in my classroom is the differences in reactions to it, which in part seem to be affected by gender. I’m simplifying here, but the designation of the text as having a female audience has resulted in putting off some male students, and they have often been quite vocal about their dislike and perhaps this reaction is part of a much bigger issue regarding the gendering of texts and audiences in accordance with hetero-normative notions of gender.
I’d venture to guess that it’s that very thing you observe - that “male characters… are more honest and emotionally focused” here than in many other narratives that’s at the crux of the issue. Which is to say, again putting this in the context of critically acclaimed dramas such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men, where so much Quality TV seems to be predicated on intellectualized explorations of masculinity (and this reminds me of how revolutionary Tony Soprano’s therapy was considered when it aired), in Hannibal intellectualization is tossed out the window in favor of a singularly melodramatic (in the generic sense) exploration. In this sense, it’s reminiscent of - if not the same as - what’s been happening in Sherlock - also firmly fixed in a melodramatic exploration of male friendship+; but where the Sherlock producers have a demonstratedly uneasy relationship with ‘overly’ affective engagement with the show (despite a narrative that very clearly invites that engagement), Fuller seems to throw his arms open through a practically pulsing embrace of narrative, aesthetic, and even extra-textual (fandom) excess that fits most neatly within discourses of female fannish fervor.
Which I think is to say that these critiques are entirely indicative of nothing so much as the discomfort the critical establishment has with what Fuller (and De Palma, in particular - the most transgressively excessive of this bunch, arguably, since he, too, eschews intellectualized storytelling for a more populist approach) is doing (see also, the critical establishment’s discomfort with female fandom and its ‘hysteria’)…?
Kirsty you raise some interesting questions about whether people who watch the series recognize how Fuller uses aesthetics to create both an intellectual and emotional response to his mode of storytelling. Indeed there are moments where the baroque style of narrative, especially in the first half of season 3 is gorgeous and moving in a way that most American television is not. In fact, I find your choice of word “baroque” to describe the way Fuller employs aesthetics in his attempt to invert quality TV and deconstruct viewer expectations to be telling. In showing that there is a beauty in violence Fuller draws upon a long cinematic tradition including the work of Peckinpah, Lynch, and De Palma. Thus in making violence stylized and beautiful- Fuller is able to focus the viewer’s attention on the narrative complexity and emotional resonance of his series, while at the same time deconstructing American viewer’s penchant for violence over character- a tactic that Michael Haneke addressed in his brilliant film Funny Games. Still, I am left to wonder why so many critics have assumed that Fuller’s aesthetic mostly appeals to female viewers. I think there are many men who are equally celebratory of the series and of Fuller’s work. In fact, what I think is truly refreshing about Fuller’s work with Hannibal is that he creates male characters that are more honest and emotionally focused rather than ones that feel as if they were designed simply for action and violence.
I’d agree here absolutely. For me, the allure of Hannibal is largely linked to its representations of death and mortality and the fact that it treats these seriously and with the weight they deserve. The theme of loss throughout all three seasons is, for me, a huge part of its appeal and the fact that I respond so emotionally to it in a way that I don’t with other programmes that I enjoy very much.
The only possible exception to this is the treatment of Chilton who is apparently able to survive everything, functioning as Fuller himself makes clear, as the “Kenny” of Hannibal. That said, by the end of the third season, Chilton is incredibly tragic to me and so again fits with this theme of loss and mortality.
This is really interesting stuff and I wonder how much of this is linked to Fuller’s role as the percieved author of the TV Hannibal especially given that it is an adaptation. Fuller as a self-proclaimed fanfiction writer has been talked about (quite rightly) and it’s interesting to see how this functions when we discuss his other works. I’ll confess that Hannibal is the only show I’ve watched of his so this is more a question than a comment. How does his position as the “author” of the Fullerverse operate given Hannibal as an adaptation. And how might this work further with American Gods which is again, adapted from an existing “text”?
In a way, I feel like - to echo what you’ve written - he takes death seriously throughout his work; which is to say, if we take the scene from Mockingbird Lane, which is arguably parodic and, as such, not serious, there were two ways to play it an subsequent scenes. One was the Addams Family way, in which death is talked about and inferred, but never something with actual bite or consequences. Whereas, even in Mockingbird Lane, not to mention Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and Hannibal, death - real, irrevocable death - is always a possibility, which gives it a gravitas it simply doesn’t have in many productions. And when people die in these shows - particularly Hannibal - we mourn, and that’s what resonates most strongly with me. I cried more watching this show - scenes of Will and Abigail in Florence, Bella leaving Jack, and even the ‘death’ of the possibility of family and friendship - than any other I can remember, because the sting of death is palpable (and the same is true of the scene I linked to from Dead Like Me; it gets me every time, and that for all that the clip is isolated from the broader narrative). I’ve also been caught up for the past few years in thoughts of mortality, and as you say, there’s a certain comfort in a show that takes those thoughts and the very real feelings they provoke seriously.